A great article in the Press Democrat this morning regarding xerescaping and drought-tolerant landscape installations!
Easy tips for xerescaping
You don’t have to have a garden full of desert plants to save on water
By JOE LAMP’L
SCRIPPS HOWARD NEWS SERVICE
It’s the rare garden that isn’t faced with patches of poor soil, occasional drought or diva plants that scream for attention. I’ve worked in gardens like that, and I’m sure you have, too. Years ago, I thought that bearing down and persevering through these ordeals was what put super-gardeners ahead of the pack.
Then I realized that smart gardeners work with their environments, rather than trying to go head-tohead with Mother Nature. The word for it is “xerescaping,” from the Greek “xeros,” meaning “dry.” Despite sounding like it would produce nothing but a desert full of cactus, xerescaping is really a simple, five-step method of commonsense, low-maintenance techniques for creating a beautiful garden in most any part of the country. Step 1.
It’s all in the plan. A landscape plan helps balance beauty and conservation to create a budgetsaving, step-by-step map for building the garden a bit at a time. Start with water conservation. Map out areas for plants with low, moderate and high water needs, as well as places that can be left totally to nature. Keep moderate- and high-water-use zones small.
Reduce or replace. Lawns are a ubiquitous part of the classic American dream, but are gluttons for fertilizer, water and your time. Replace turf or at least reduce such grassy areas to where they’re really useful, such as a play zone for the kids or to absorb water in low areas or to retain soil on a hillside. Install drought-tolerant grasses such as buffalo grass, or low-spreading groundcovers like creeping juniper, thyme or St John’s wort.
Plant for durability and beauty. Xerescapes don’t have to look any different from traditional gardens, although they can reflect any garden style you choose. The key is matching soil and water requirements to the plants you want to grow in the various zones of your landscape plan. You can easily combine native plants with non-natives if the latter can adapt to your soil, climate and rainfall. My friend Nan Sterman’s garden in San Diego offers living proof of this. The entire garden is a stunning blend of natives and exotics, yet all with comparable growing conditions.
Many Mediterranean plants, like lavender (Lavandula spp.), Russian 0sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia) and sedums (Sedum spp.), are also water-conserving and hardy to surprisingly harsh winter conditions. But in the event you want to grow marginally hardy or very thirsty plants, for example, group them together in those areas where they won’t be forgotten and with access to important resources like water or where supplemental shade is readily available.
Out of sight often means out of mind, too.
Mulch. Mulch is probably the best thing you can do for a garden, but it’s especially appropriate for xerics. It shades the soil, keeps roots cool, reduces evaporation and helps keep weeds under control. In the winter, it insulates plant stems and crowns from freezes. Mulch can be inorganic material, such as stones or gravel, or organic, such as ground bark, shredded leaves or wood chips. Apply a 2- to 3-inch-thick layer around plants, while leaving a few inches bare around the stems.
Water wisely. Even when following the xeric principles, some parts of your garden will need extra moisture. Group plants with similar irrigation needs into watering zones, using ultra-efficient, low-volume irrigation systems like bubbler or drip hoses. And be sure to place your drip system on a timer for maximum efficiency. The intent is not so much for the water to come on automatically based on a predetermined schedule; it’s more for making sure that when you do water, it shuts off without you having to remember to do it.